I recently had a great opportunity to spend several days with young leaders from across the Middle East, each of whom is actively involved in ministry. They came together to learn about partnership because they know that the dreams God has put on their hearts are far too big for just one ministry or organization to accomplish by itself. When asked why they thought God’s people don’t work together in partnership, they made several pointed observations:
- We focus on our differences instead of what we have in common
- We don’t love each other
- We don’t know how
While there are many different reasons these emerging leaders could have mentioned, I was struck by the simple truth of these particular comments.
Fruitful and effective ministry partnerships are possible when we build on what we have in common, rather than focusing on our differences. In discussions with these young leaders from the Middle East, I became even more aware of the complexity of the Church context in which they are seeking to shine as lights in a largely Islamic majority. The denominational and theological differences within the broader Christian community in the region are tremendously complex. Those differences combined with language, cultural, and historical differences can make the ideal of partnership seem nearly impossible. When these young leaders were asked why they thought Jesus had specifically chosen to pray for the unity of His followers during His final hours, they replied: “Because unity is the most important and it is also the most difficult”.
While each of us would likely agree that the idealized value of the Church is to work together in unity, the fact is that through the ages the functional reality of working together is indeed difficult! Despite ever-improving technology which makes collaboration more possible today than ever before, our differences more often divide us than our common visions unite us. Partnerships can develop where the commonly shared vision is so compelling that we are willing to set aside the differences that could keep us working separately and less effectively.
These young leaders also mentioned that one reason we do not work together is because we don’t love each other. Jesus’ command to love one another requires that we proactively demonstrate love to others in the body of Christ, even those with whom we have differences. It is our love for Christ and His love in us that compels us to work together with people of different organizations, denominations, cultures and color. When love is our aim, we will come to a partnership with an attitude of what I can contribute rather than what I can take or how I can manipulate the group into accomplishing my goals. Any partnership is only worth investing in if it provides some benefit to each one of the partners. But an attitude of love does not put me or my organization first. It puts others first so the common goals of the partnership can be accomplished.
While it is true that we may not work together because we don’t fully understand Jesus’ call to practically and authentically love one another, it’s also true that we may not love one another because we haven’t worked together. Isn’t it in the context of getting to know one another and building a relationship that love has the opportunity to grow? When we who were once strangers, who believed misconceptions about each other, are willing to come together and listen to one another’s stories and dreams, then the foundation of trust and respect can begin to develop. As we learn to trust one another, we are able to recognize our common vision and work side by side to accomplish something together. It is in that context of planning and praying together, and working to accomplish a God-sized dream that is bigger than our individual visions, that we can grow into genuinely caring for and loving one another.
The reality is that even when we can set aside our differences and recognize a compelling, commonly shared vision, we, like these young Middle Eastern ministry leaders, often don’t know how to develop partnerships. Most ministry leaders haven’t come out of a business background where they have participated in developing a partnership or strategic alliance. Few seminaries or mission training programs offer courses in ministry collaboration, and so we do the only thing we know how – we call a meeting of all those we think might share our common vision. At visionSynergy, we have a saying, “the surest way to kill a partnership is to call a meeting”! That’s because after many years of advising the development of partnerships, we have learned that collaboration is a process not an event (and certainly not a meeting!).
While there is not just one way to build a fruitful and lasting partnership, our experience is that there are processes, principles, and best practices that can be learned to become a more effective collaborative leader. Learned and applied, these can produce Kingdom partnerships that result in spiritual breakthroughs only made possible because the body of Christ is working together. In John 17 there is, after all, one primary reason Jesus calls us to unity: “so that the world will believe that you sent me”.
This month’s Lausanne theme of partnership provides a wide range of suggestions, stories, and principles for success in Kingdom collaboration – and the opportunity for you to share your own experience and ideas. Please join the discussion so we might advance the cause of God’s people working together so that the world will believe!
Several Christian leaders have been asked to continue the conversation by responding to this lead article. Read their responses and share your own thoughts:
Kärin Butler Primuth is Executive Director, visionSynergy
Connect with others who share your desire for collaboration
See over 70 short videos from global practitioners about actual partnerships.